August 5, 2017

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July 2017, Glenwood neighborhood house, Glendale (watercolor, water soluble pen and water soluble wax pastels on watercolor paper)

I enjoy walking my neighborhood Glendale hills with houses done in a particular Spanish revival style from the 20’s and 30’s. These homes have stucco walls, a terra cotta tiled roof, interesting windows (many with a curved top), “curved top” archways, and often—if someone hasn’t made a big mistake and replaced the front door with an abomination—a heavy wooden door (also often with a curve at the top). Many of those original doors have a small window at “head level” so someone inside can see who’s at the door. This watercolor is of a house in the Spanish revival style and has all of what I just described, except I can’t see the front door from my sidewalk vantage point. They may have done the unthinkable and replaced it with something unworthy of this special California architecture, but I can’t see it. The door is set way back in a deep front porch and it’s in deep shadow. And of course that is a problem with these houses, they often have very dark areas around the porches and patios. The interior of such a house can also be very dark.

As I walk along I critique what the owners have done with the house and yard. I notice things that have been replaced without a thought of what it initially looked like—like a door, or the wrong shaped window. I’ve even seen some of these houses where windows have been completely removed and/or plastered over. It looks weird, in my opinion. And some people have painted their house a strange color that is too yellow or orange for my taste. The other day I noticed a house that had been recently been painted a nice crème color—covering a rather unfortunate shade of orange. That is so much better, for my taste.

I think when these houses were originally built the stucco was probably white, much like the 21 white washed Spanish missions you can still see in California (built in early 18th and late 19th centuries). The walls of the buildings were made by stacking thick handmade adobe bricks, with local timber beams as the framework of each building. Those missions were built along what was called El Camino Real, and went from San Diego up to Sonoma. It used to be that every public school 4th grade student in California studied those missions. And as a culmination of that study wrote a report and made a model of one particular mission. Sometimes kids were clever with the materials they used to make their particular mission, but more often than not they were made with stacked and glued sugar cubes. I probably made my mission with sugar cubes when I was in 4th grade. My mom would have had to buy a couple boxes at the store, as my parents just used granulated loose sugar in their coffee. Not sure if it’s easy to find sugar cubes at the grocery store anymore, I haven’t looked lately. And it takes a lot of sugar cubes to build one of those structures. White glue and sugar cubes, what a sticky mess! Yikes!

There are a couple houses on my route that are the same lovely rose color as the house in my painting. I like it. I think the reason I am OK with a non-white Spanish revival color choice is because it makes the plantings in the front yard look stunning, in my opinion. Tall dark green shrubs look amazing next to the rose stucco. And if a signature specimen plant with dark bark and tiny bright yellow flowers (like this tree) is near the house, you have set the stage for a lovely vignette of a hard stucco surface next to organic soft plantings. Oh yeah, when I take my walk I also critique the plants in front yards too. And my biggest pet peeve with front yards in Glendale, and all over California for that matter is a huge front lawn. Somehow because everything grows well here, people have planted a wide variety of things, especially lawns and tropical plants that need lots of water. But the climate here is Mediterranean, not tropical. And grass needs lots of water to look nice. Some people here have let their lawn die, saying “brown is the new green.” I say, no way!

So, this house and garden are especially perfect for me because the house is not an unattractive color choice, the plantings accentuate the beauty of the house and there is no huge green, or brown, lawn. There is quite a debate here in California about lawns and using our precious water to keep them green in the dead of summer. But some folks think having a lawn is somehow a personal right. They are willing to pay the fines imposed by various CA water districts when they go over a specified limit. And some seem OK with letting their grass patch die without giving a thought to replacing it once it’s dead. You see, most of the water used in California is meant for the farmers who grow massive amounts of fruit and vegetables. For years there have been lots of illegal “grass” farms here as well. But now that pot is legal, I suspect there will be more “grass” planted. This makes me wonder how the farmers who grow almonds will feel about the farmers who will be growing “grass.” And I can’t imagine telling someone who wants to have a green lawn in Glendale that some of their water will be going to a pot farmer. I’ll stop here because of course that’s yet another California story. I just hope more and more homeowners here in California might consider no lawn at all. Why not consider having such a lovely drought tolerant vignette of color and texture in the front yard? But of course, all of this is just my opinion. What do you think?

Note about this house: I saw a “for sale” sign in front of the house the last time I went for a walk. Never been inside this pink beauty, but there is an open house tomorrow and I may go and check it out. I hope the new owners will maintain the integrity and beauty of the house and garden. And it goes without saying, that that is just my opinion too.

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